Mind Control Over Motorized Wheelchairs

Non-invasive neural system could let disabled people use thoughts to steer

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WEDNESDAY, July 30, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- A neural system that "reads" minds may some day let severely disabled people use their thoughts to steer a motorized wheelchair.

Unlike previous devices of this sort, this system does not require surgical implants. It utilizes a skullcap fitted with electrodes that monitor the electrical activity of a person's brain, says a recent story in New Scientist.

Researchers have tested the device by having wearers try to control a steerable robot. It took two days training for the users to learn how to use their minds to control the robot.

The system was created by Swiss and Spanish scientists. If its development is successful, it would be the first mind-controlled system able to operate something as complicated as a motorized wheelchair.

In the robot tests, the electrodes in the skullcap collected information about the brain's electrical activity and fed that information into a computer. Software analyzed the person's brain activity and, using a wireless link, passed on commands to the robot.

Currently, users fitted with the skullcap can select three different commands for the robot -- turn left, turn right and move forward. The software can interpret the specific command by identifying telltale brain activity associated with that command.

The scientists are working to expand the ability of the system to identify more command information from the brain.

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SOURCE: New Scientist, news release, July 2003
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